Why It's So Hard for Adults When Their Parents Divorce
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By Rachel Nuwer
Most people are familiar with today’s depressing divorce stats: Up to 50 percent of U.S. marriages fail, and about half of all children will have to deal with that trauma before their 18th birthday. What many people don’t realize, however, is that there’s no expiration date for divorce risk. In fact, more older couples than ever are deciding to go their separate ways. As a result, a growing number of adult children are being thrown into the emotional cyclone of their parents’ split.
Experts refer to this relatively new phenomenon as grey divorce—separations that occur between those 50 years or older. Sociologists are just beginning to catch on to this trend, sparked by a 2012 study that found that the number of grey divorces has doubled since 1990. While one in 10 couples who divorced then was over 50, older couples now make up a quarter of all divorces in the U.S. “We have this preconceived notion that older people are not going to call it quits, that long-term marriages survive,” says Susan Brown, Ph.D., a sociologist at Bowling Green State University and lead author of the study. “When we found this doubling, we were just blown away.”
Researchers are still playing catch-up about what the spike in later-in-life divorces means for society and for families. In the meantime, however, the trend shows no sign of abating, and adult children are oft-overlooked casualties in this process.
“A lot of parents who are in my office seeking a later-in-life divorce haven’t really done a lot of thinking about how it’s going to impact their kids,” says Janice Green, a family law attorney based in Austin and author of “Divorce After 50.” “But adult kids have longer-established family rituals and home memories than the younger ones, so in some sense the divorce can cause more of an impact.”